Nova Scotia

NSGEU pulls out of Northwood COVID-19 review over transparency concerns

Nova Scotia's largest union has pulled out of the review on what happened during the Northwood long-term care home COVID-19 outbreak over transparency matters, but Unifor doesn't characterize the review the same way.

'It feels like a coverup,' says union president Jason MacLean

A two-person review committee will look at the COVID-19 outbreak at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax, which killed 53 residents. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia's largest union has pulled out of the review looking at the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax over concerns about transparency.

Some members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) went to Northwood to work on pandemic relief teams.

Based on their experiences and documents gathered using access-to-information legislation, the union put together a report it planned to submit to the province's review committee.

The province announced the creation of a two-person review committee on June 30 to look into how COVID-19 was able to sweep through the facility. There have been 345 cases of the coronavirus at the facility, with 246 residents and 99 employees contracting it. Fifty-three of those residents died because of COVID-19.

The committee is governed by the Quality-Improvement Information Protection Act.

Jason MacLean, president of the NSGEU, wanted to make the union's report public and submit it to the review committee.

"Our legal counsel was very uncomfortable saying that that was the right thing to do. It was either you're going to speak to them or you're not going to speak to them because there is a piece of legislation out there and an act, and you have to abide by the act," MacLean said.

The act contains a clause that imposes a fine of up to $10,000 or six months imprisonment for violating the act.

Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, called the process under the act 'secretive' and 'punitive.' (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

The act protects "quality improvement information" from disclosure, but does not specifically state whether people who give information to the review committee can speak publicly about their position later.

MacLean said he found this "secretive" and "punitive," and he made the decision to pull out of the review process last week.

"That makes me feel that they're not out there to try and help people and make people feel safe to come in and talk to somebody," he said.

"What they're doing is saying, 'You can come in and talk to us and you're not allowed to speak about it anymore.' I find that troubling, and that's why I wouldn't participate in this, and that's why to me it feels like a coverup."

Premier dismisses concerns

The premier dismissed MacLean's language as "rhetoric" and said he didn't think the word coverup was helpful. However, he did commit to looking into the concern about whether witnesses could speak publicly.

"We may be able to allow anyone who wants to participate to make their own testimony public," McNeil said after a cabinet meeting.

Unifor will participate

The union that represents the majority of the workers inside Northwood does not characterize the review the same way as the NSGEU.

Unifor represents more than 450 of Northwood's Halifax campus workers, and it continued with its presentation to the review committee Thursday.

Linda MacNeil, Unifor's Atlantic regional director, said she thinks the review may not be perfect, but Unifor feels a duty to participate in it.

"Regardless, nothing is going to prevent us to speak to the panel for the review because we have to represent our members. We have to speak on their behalf," she said.

Linda MacNeil, Unifor's Atlantic regional director, said she feels it's Unifor's duty to participate in the review. (Submitted by Linda MacNeil)

"Anything that's going to help prevent the spread of COVID, or prevent deaths, obviously, and the protection for our members, that's what we're hoping will come as the results of the review."

MacLean said he still wants to participate in the review, but isn't confident the act will allow the NSGEU to do so in the way it feels is appropriate.

The union plans to make its own report public on its website next week.

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